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What rules govern discovery exchange before Summary Judgment

Resolved Question:

The Court is the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of New Jersey.


In brief my question is what rules govern the exchange of Discovery before a party can move for Summary Judgment?  The Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment without providing a sufficient response to the Defendant’s Discovery requests.  What is the Defendant’s recourse to avoid having to reply to this Motion for Summary Judgment without the benefit of Discovery at this time?


 


Background:


• Defendant filed for bankruptcy.


• Plaintiff filed a Complaint to Determine Dischargeability of Debts Arising from Divorce Proceeding.


• Plaintiff requested discovery which Defendant provided in full.


• Defendant requested discovery (asking the exact same Interrogatories and NTP that the Plaintiff asked plus a few additional to clarify several accusations in their Complaint).


• Plaintiff’s discovery responses were all general objections to every request (no claim of privilege or confidentiality was made).


• Upon receipt, Defendant rejected Plaintiff’s discovery responses and called for more specific answers.


• Plaintiff immediately filed a Motion for Summary Judgment to be heard in 35 days.


• »» Defendant is now forced to reply to Motion for Summary Judgment without the benefit of discovery.


 


It was my understanding that everyone is entitled to the right of discovery by the rules of Civil Procedure.  How can the Defendant be denied this right and be forced to reply to this Motion for Summary Judgment at this time?  If he had the Plaintiff’s discovery responses he would be able to fully make his defense and may even desire that this case be decided on Summary Judgment and save the time and expense of a trial.


 

Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Bankruptcy Law
Expert:  JoeLawyer replied 2 years ago.
Hello. A Motion for Summary Judgment is one parties' request to the court to decide that the facts and evidence, if viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, supports a ruling in favor of the moving party. For summary judgment to be granted, normally two criteria must be met: (i) there is no genuine issue of material fact, and (ii) the moving party must be entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

In your case, evidently the plaintiff felt that the responses you provided to their discovery requests were sufficient to establish the material facts necessary to make their case without the need for a trial, so they went ahead and filed the motion for summary judgment.

While summary judgment motions are generally filed after discovery, they can be filed before discovery (i.e. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 “does not require trial courts to allow parties to conduct discovery before entering summary judgment.” Humphreys v. Roche Biomedical Labs., Inc., 990 F.2d 1078, 1081 (8th Cir.1993), see HERE).

However, you may have a good defense to a summary judgment motion if there are issues of material fact, which there may very well be since discovery has not been completed. In other words, if there are some fact(s) that are crucial to the plaintiff's case that have not been established yet, then you can object to the motion for summary judgment indicating that those fact(s) are in dispute and thus summary judgment is inappropriate. Or, if there are some fact(s) that, if shown, would provide a valid defense to the complaint, and those facts have yet to be established, then again you may have a good defense to summary judgment.

Generally, you want to be sure and file your objection to such motions timely to prevent the court from automatically granting the motion. You also need to attend the hearing to explain to the court what facts are still in dispute which are/may be material/crucial to the case.

Good luck,
Joe

LEGAL NOTICE: I am only licensed to practice law in certain state(s) and I cannot give legal advice to someone who does not reside in a state in which I am licensed, nor shall anything I say in the above answer or elsewhere on this site be deemed legal advice, even to someone who resides in a state in which I am licensed. Funds I receive from JustAnswer.com are gratuities paid to me for taking the time to respond to questions, not for legal advice. This forum is designed to provide general information only, and information herein is not warranted to be correct or applicable in any way since laws may have been misinterpreted herein, since laws change from time to time, and since the impact of those laws on any particular situation varies. The information presented in this site shall not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship. Persons accessing this response are encouraged to seek independent legal counsel in their jurisdiction for guidance regarding their individual circumstances. Do not take any action or inaction based on information presented herein since it is informational and may not be accurate or applicable to you; it merely attempts to give you a basis of knowledge to help you formulate questions to ask a legal or other professional in a face-to-face meeting in your jurisdiction. JoeLawyer is an attorney but does not hold himself out to be a specialist or expert in any area, regardless of assertions made by any third party, and any implication of being an expert or specialist herein is made in error. I hope the information presented above is useful to you. Answer above is (c) JoeLawyer. All rights reserved.
Expert:  JoeLawyer replied 2 years ago.
NOTE: The Humphreys v. Roche Biomedical Labs., Inc. case I cited in the above post is an 8th Circuit case, and of course New Jersey is in the 3rd Circuit, so Humphreys is not binding on the 3rd Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court touched on the issue of summary judgment before discovery in Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635 (1987) (HERE), and of course any Supreme Court ruling is binding on all Circuits, but the Supreme Court's ruling in Anderson was unclear (at least to me) whether it would, in some circumstances, permit summary judgment before discovery. I suggest perusing Anderson.

Ultimately, the argument that summary judgment is inappropriate before discovery may or may not work, but if there is an issue of material fact, that is a much stronger argument and one that the non-movant should usually focus on when trying to defeat summary judgment.

Joe

LEGAL NOTICE: I am only licensed to practice law in certain state(s) and I cannot give legal advice to someone who does not reside in a state in which I am licensed, nor shall anything I say in the above answer or elsewhere on this site be deemed legal advice, even to someone who resides in a state in which I am licensed. Funds I receive from JustAnswer.com are gratuities paid to me for taking the time to respond to questions, not for legal advice. This forum is designed to provide general information only, and information herein is not warranted to be correct or applicable in any way since laws may have been misinterpreted herein, since laws change from time to time, and since the impact of those laws on any particular situation varies. The information presented in this site shall not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship. Persons accessing this response are encouraged to seek independent legal counsel in their jurisdiction for guidance regarding their individual circumstances. Do not take any action or inaction based on information presented herein since it is informational and may not be accurate or applicable to you; it merely attempts to give you a basis of knowledge to help you formulate questions to ask a legal or other professional in a face-to-face meeting in your jurisdiction. JoeLawyer is an attorney but does not hold himself out to be a specialist or expert in any area, regardless of assertions made by any third party, and any implication of being an expert or specialist herein is made in error. I hope the information presented above is useful to you. Answer above is (c) JoeLawyer. All rights reserved.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Thank you for your thorough answer and references.

 

There are issues of material fact in dispute. Although the defendant’s primary defense will be to argue that the entire complaint should be denied because all of the debt is dischargeable, the complaint contains claims and allegations that state total amounts sought in multiple categories without explaining how they were calculated or even citing where they obtained their figures from.

 

Accordingly, the defendant needs the facts behind these amounts sought to supplement his defense in case he loses the argument regarding dischargeability on any or all categories of this debt and a money judgment is filed against him.

 

 

I need some clarification: Is the defendant’s objection to the motion for summary judgment a separate submission that precedes his actual detailed reply/response to it or are they one in the same? Will there be another, earlier hearing scheduled regarding the objection? (Apologies, I do not know the correct legal terms to use)

 

What is the process for objecting to the motion for summary judgment? Exactly what does the defendant need to do and by when?

 

Specifically, what are the deadlines?

• for filing an objection to summary judgment

• for the judge to approve/deny the objection that summary judgment is inappropriate at this time

• for filing the reply/response with the defendant’s entire defense to the Motion for Summary Judgment

 

Obviously if the objection is granted, the defendant’s attorney does not need to prepare the reply to the Motion for Summary Judgment at this time without having the Plaintiff’s answers to his discovery requests.

 

Please also note that in the plaintiff’s attorney’s Certification for the Motion for Summary Judgment he states “The parties have exchanged discovery in the form of Interrogatories, Demand for Documents and Requests for Admissions.” Technically, this is a true statement, but the facts are that the defendant responded in excruciating detail and to the best of his ability to every one of the plaintiff’s requests whereas the plaintiff refused to respond to anything. The defendant has sent two letters to plaintiff’s attorney. The hearing for the Motion for Summary Judgment is less than three weeks away.

 

Thank you again for your time and expertise.

 

PS - Tomorrow I will post another important but unrelated bankruptcy question. That one is very straight forward. I want to give you the heads up in case you are interested.

Expert:  JoeLawyer replied 2 years ago.
Is the defendant’s objection to the motion for summary judgment a separate submission that precedes his actual detailed reply/response to it or are they one in the same?

They are one in the same. Normally one files an Objection to Motion for Summary Judgment and lists therein all of the reasons why the motion should not be granted. One can normally separately file a brief in support of the objection, or simply include the brief with the objection as one document.

Will there be another, earlier hearing scheduled regarding the objection?


No, the filing of an objection just ensures that the court does not automatically grant the motion based on no opposition from the non-moving party.

Sometimes, even in the absence of a filed objection, the court will set the matter for hearing (which is what it sounds like happened in your case since you have not filed an objection and since a hearing was set), but I always like to file the formal objection just in case.

In any case, the Motion for Summary Judgment and the objection thereto are normally heard all at once.

What is the process for objecting to the motion for summary judgment?


You file the objection with the court. If you are an attorney, you are normally required to file the objection electronically using the electronic case filing system, but non-attorneys can usually still file a paper objection by typing the objection, signing it, and mailing it to (or hand-filing at) the Clerk of the Bankruptcy Court. Your jurisdiction may vary from this procedure though, but I would suspect it works the same in New Jersey as it does in my jurisdiction.

Exactly what does the defendant need to do and by when?

Usually the court sends out a notice to the defendant and states the deadline to object to the motion therein, so you might want to look at everything received from the court to see if a deadline is in any of the documents. The objection doesn't have to be in any particular format to be accepted by the court, as long as it has the case heading, says it is an objection to the Motion for Summary Judgment, and it signed by the person submitting it. In my jurisdiction, you don't have to list all the reasons why you are objecting, simply that you do object, though I always do list all my reasons for objecting so the court knows my objection is based on good faith arguments.

Specifically, what are the deadlines?

• for filing an objection to summary judgment

• for the judge to approve/deny the objection that summary judgment is inappropriate at this time

• for filing the reply/response with the defendant’s entire defense to the Motion for Summary Judgment


28 days I think, though this may be specific to my jurisdiction. It has been a few years since I had to respond to a SJ motion, and the court changed several time frames for objections/responses recently. HERE is the instructions for my jurisdiction, though I don't know if the time frame is the same in New Jersey. But, like I said above, if the court went ahead and set it for hearing then obviously the court is not going to grant it automatically, so you can attend the hearing and make your arguments there, though for the sake of prudence I always still file a written objection ASAP.

Please also note that in the plaintiff’s attorney’s Certification for the Motion for Summary Judgment he states “The parties have exchanged discovery in the form of Interrogatories, Demand for Documents and Requests for Admissions.” Technically, this is a true statement, but the facts are that the defendant responded in excruciating detail and to the best of his ability to every one of the plaintiff’s requests whereas the plaintiff refused to respond to anything. The defendant has sent two letters to plaintiff’s attorney.

It might be worth noting in the objection that the plaintiff's indication that discovery was "exchanged" is misleading since only the defendant provided discovery, and that the plaintiff has (so far) failed to do so.

Joe

LEGAL NOTICE: I am only licensed to practice law in certain state(s) and I cannot give legal advice to someone who does not reside in a state in which I am licensed, nor shall anything I say in the above answer or elsewhere on this site be deemed legal advice, even to someone who resides in a state in which I am licensed. Funds I receive from JustAnswer.com are gratuities paid to me for taking the time to respond to questions, not for legal advice. This forum is designed to provide general information only, and information herein is not warranted to be correct or applicable in any way since laws may have been misinterpreted herein, since laws change from time to time, and since the impact of those laws on any particular situation varies. The information presented in this site shall not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship. Persons accessing this response are encouraged to seek independent legal counsel in their jurisdiction for guidance regarding their individual circumstances. Do not take any action or inaction based on information presented herein since it is informational and may not be accurate or applicable to you; it merely attempts to give you a basis of knowledge to help you formulate questions to ask a legal or other professional in a face-to-face meeting in your jurisdiction. JoeLawyer is an attorney but does not hold himself out to be a specialist or expert in any area, regardless of assertions made by any third party, and any implication of being an expert or specialist herein is made in error. I hope the information presented above is useful to you. Answer above is (c) JoeLawyer. All rights reserved.
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